Question from a Site Viewer
As far as I’m aware, nothing actively destroyed my faith; it faded away so gradually that it was like the diminishing sound of a bell. You can never say for sure when it actually stops. It wasn’t something I was proud of and it certainly didn’t feel like it was anything I could do something about, and so I lived as an atheist for about fourteen years, when a chance event made me wish I could pray. I can’t begin to tell you how difficult that was. I regained my faith about 3 1/2 years ago and it has grown steadily stronger during this time. I regularly experience Agape and practice the presence of God. I call God “Father” and look to him for inspiration, as much as I possibly can, in every day. But I never did return to Christianity. I feel drawn and prompted to try to return to Christianity but I have never believed in the inerrancy of the Bible. If a person quotes Scripture at me it will be, to me, words without authority. I pray like a Jew or a Muslim, directly to God, my loving Father, and whenever I try to include Jesus in this, I fail. It’s like going to say something and choking instead. Even if I get as far as accepting Jesus was the son of God, it seems I get no further. I believe he was executed by the Romans and died. Stories abound of the sighting of people’s spirits as they leave their bodies and the spirit of Jesus may have done the same thing. If there’s something like heaven then he will be there. It gets worse, as I have met no end of really nasty, bigoted people who are full of hate and call themselves Christians and can quote the Bible. I tell you, if heaven’s full of people like this, then I don’t want to go there! What do I do? I do realize that a lot of this is way outside of your comfort zone and I apologize for this and any offense that I may have caused you.
First, let me deal with the last portion of your email. You state that you have met many “nasty, bigoted people who are full of hate and call themselves Christians and can quote the Bible.” If heaven is full of such people, you do not want to go there. I have heard and read people who say the same about God, as He is revealed in the Scriptures. So I never know what to make of such statements. If people are bigoted because they believe there is a right and a wrong, that God loves and God hates, and that there is only one belief that will get one into heaven, then the church of necessity is full of bigoted people and the God of Scriptures is a bigoted God. I know people who believe this. No matter how much kindness people may be shown, no matter how much compassion, they believe God is bigoted and full of hate and His people are as well.
I trust that you are not saying this, but rather you have had unpleasant encounters with “Christians” who do not show love and compassion towards their fellow humanity. Unfortunately, there are many people who live like this. Even with such people, however, I have a slightly different take. Most people who profess Christianity are not strong in their faith. The polls all show that many “Christians” have never read the Bible, could not name the 10 commandments, do not know what the Beatitudes are, and have little knowledge of Christian doctrine. If they are so ignorant about basic matters, it is no wonder that they do not reflect Christ well. They are babes when it comes to their faith, and they scarcely know what God requires of them, and even more rarely consider such. Christians should be known by their kind words and works and their radical devotion to Christ. There are some who are. Christians are the ones who have started many of the world’s hospitals, run many of the services to the poorest and neediest peoples of the world, and were the ones agitating for the abolition of slavery and today for the protection of the innocents. Christians are at the forefront of fighting the sex trade for little children. Christian organizations are generally the first to mobilize for disasters. They run refugee camps and fight disease. There is a great deal of good in this world that comes from those who are motivated to follow Jesus Christ. I recently completed reading the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian, and his struggle with Hitler, a struggle driven by his deep faith in Jesus Christ. I think it is good to understand that while there are bigoted people who claim to be “Christians,” there are also people who see the claim of Christ to be a reason to perform a great deal of good for this world. In fact, some (such as the Orthodox theologian, David Bentley Hart), present a strong argument for the conclusion that the focus in our present world on care for the poor arose out of the influence of the church on the world. Certainly in the ancient world caring for the poor was not the norm, and even today in many cultures the western concern for the poor is unknown.
Further, I note that there are nasty, bigoted people full of hate who disavow Christianity. I would not want to choose hell over heaven because of the type of people who may be going there, as those who have expressly rejected Christ include Stalin, Hitler, Mao, the Khmer Rouge and most of the ancient and modern terrorists. If hell is for those who do not follow the God of the Bible, then it will be full of many nasty people.
Second, it is the nature of humans to sin. We tend towards selfishness, greed, pride, arrogance, using others, belittling others, and seeking our own interests over the interests of others. This is the very nature of sin. Thus, we have to teach our children to share, to be kind and to think of others. Such does not come naturally for them, but when they see this modeled in their parents, it is easier for them to grasp these concepts. Any religious system must have a way of dealing with the sin problem. Some state that we can deal with our sin problem by doing more good deeds than bad ones. I do not find this view convincing. How many good deeds do I need to do to overcome one murder? Or one lie? If I murder no one else and always tell the truth thereafter, is that enough to overcome the murder or the lie? Will I not always be a murderer even if I only commit one murder? Will I not always be a liar even if I only committed one lie? Further, if God is as He is revealed in Scripture, and in the realm of possibilities this is one that must be considered, then His standard is total righteousness. If I live fully righteous and then offend in one point, how do I measure up thereafter? How can I make it up? If I do righteousness the rest of my life, that is only what I was expected to do to begin with! How can I do anything additional to make up my one failing?
I find the sin resolution of Scripture resolves the problem I see with other systems. Scripture tells us that because of our sin we need a savior. And Scripture also tells us that God Himself brought us salvation by sending Jesus, the God-Son, to bear our sins for us and to offer His righteousness to us. This is the good news that the church has always proclaimed. There is a way to have our sins forgiven. The way to God for sinful men has been opened by the atonement of Jesus Christ. Jesus offers eternal life and a relationship with the Father through faith in Him.
Third, in reading your email it appears that you are not following any path towards God. Rather, you are making up your own way. If you are not following Jesus, then you certainly are not a Christian. But you also indicate that you are not following Islam or Judaism, although like all three faiths you appear to believe that there is one God. And you feel drawn to “return to Christianity,” although I am not certain what that means to you since you do not believe that Jesus is God, that He died for our sins, and that He was raised bodily from the grave. I sense rather that you have some understanding of the need for spirituality and you have some belief that such can be satisfied within Christianity. I commend you for coming this far.
I do not have any guidance for you apart from the pages of the Bible. Given my lack of confidence in my own reasoning ability, and seeing even wise decisions turn sour, in my view there is no basis for hope for any of us if God has not revealed Himself to us. If I create something in my own mind, I have no test for knowing if I am self-deceived. A single faulty premise can make the best logic fail.
Scriptures purport to reveal a God who makes Himself known. From the beginning, God speaks. If God is as He is revealed in Scripture, He is not only loving and merciful, but at the same time He is righteous and He hates sin. Many people struggle at the bloodshed in the Old Testament, and for good reason. Their idea of God is not aligned with the Old Testament’s view (and the New Testament’s view since the writers shared the same view) of God. This is the God who redeemed His people Israel from Egypt and then destroyed an entire generation in the wilderness because of their sin. This is the God who sets before people life and death and encourages them to choose life but warns them of death if they do not. Deuteronomy 28-30 describes this God who rewards and punishes His people based on their love, faith, and obedience. He is not merely accepting of whatever we do. He commands us to love Him and to love others, something that takes passion, intention, and focus. He rewards those who diligently seek Him but He will not leave the guilty unpunished. Yet, even when He pronounces punishment, if there is repentance God will relent of His announced punishment. God’s great desire and character is to show mercy. In other words, Scripture reveals God to be someone different than we may often think.
My best suggestion to you is to read the Bible from beginning to end. You might find it helpful to purchase one of the study Bibles that will provide notes that may help you understand some of the passages. In your reading, ask yourselves some basic questions as you read.
- How does the passage depict God?
- How does the passage depict humanity?
- What role does each passage have in developing the overall themes of the Bible? (Sometimes you will not be able to figure this out, but this is a good question to ask.)
- Does the passage have any meaning for me?
I suspect you have a basic understanding that Scripture begins at the beginning and ends at the end. The first chapter of Genesis opens with the creation and the last chapter of Revelation closes with the eternal state in the new heaven and the new earth. Throughout the pages of Scripture, you will find stories, prophecies, poems, successes, failures, and a theme about God’s relationship with people.
I encourage you to read, not simply to get through, but to understand the perspective of the various authors. There will be parts you will not understand. Even trained theologians struggle to understand some passages. There will be other parts that I believe will resonate with you. Always, keep an open, seeking mind to listen for God. You might be surprised what you will find. God is wanting a relationship with us all, and those who draw near to Him will find Him drawing near to them.
Finally, your email certainly did not cause any offense to me, and I trust that mine does not offend you. I would like to tell you about how much I treasure Jesus Christ, how rich that relationship is to me, how delighted I am with the words of Scripture, how I treasure them, what they say to me and how they enrich my life and lead me to a life of serving others. For me, everything begins with a confidence and trust in the words of the Bible. I believe they are God’s words to us. They have certainly been true in my life. But I accept your words at face value that you do not believe in the truth of Scripture, nor in the resurrection of Christ. I thus, cannot advance an argument for you based on what Scripture says. I can only appeal to your sense of logic and your sense of longing, and point you to what I see as the living water.
I pray that you will find peace with God.